Gwen Yates, Alton Yates and Chris Barton, from Moving Forward, illustrated by Steffi Walthall

It happens every time.

When I read Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins with Airman Alton Yates to a student audience and get to the page where the narrative leaps ahead 57 years — from the terrible events of Ax Handle Saturday to a scene of Alton and Gwen Yates at their Jacksonville dinner table in 2017 — I point to the third person in the scene.

“This other guy looks kind of familiar to me,” I say.

“That’s YOU?” some student inevitably replies.

“You’ve MET Alton?” another always exclaims.

Yes, it is me, and yes, I have. Only once, so far — but that’s scheduled to change in a few weeks.

This Lit Chat Interview is a 60-minute program consisting of a 40-minute conversation between Chris Barton, Alton Yates, and interviewer TiLena Robinson, followed by 20 minutes of audience Q&A. They will discuss Chris’s book Moving Forward, a nonfiction children’s book about Alton’s roles in Space Age military experiments and in Jacksonville’s 1960 civil rights sit-ins that culminated in Ax Handle Saturday. A book signing will follow, with books available for sale on site.

That’s right: On Saturday, December 3, in the beautiful Ansbacher Map Room of the Jacksonville Public Library, Alton Yates and I will make our first-ever public appearance together!

For that matter, it’s my first-ever public appearance with anyone I’ve written a book about — let alone someone I’ve written a book about and become friends with along the way.

Ansbacher Map Room, Jacksonville Public Library. Photo by Chris Barton.

And what an appropriate setting. Not only will we be in the very room where I did some of my research for Moving Forward (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2022), but the library itself sits right across the street from the park that was at the center of both the sit-ins and the racist attack that followed.

As I note in the timeline at the back of the book, during the years Moving Forward was in the works, this park was renamed. It now honors Jacksonville native James Weldon Johnson, co-writer of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (a.k.a. the Black National Anthem), rather than Charles Hemming, the Confederate veteran who paid for a towering Confederate monument there.

And I also have to point out that as Moving Forward came together, that monument came down — partially, anyway. It’s a reminder that, six decades after the Jacksonville NAACP Youth Council’s activism for civil rights recounted in the book, progress continues… and that there’s always more progress to be made.

I’m so lucky that I get to have this public conversation with Alton Yates next month. It makes me feel like the story told by illustrator Steffi Walthall and me in Moving Forward is still unfolding. And if I’ve learned one thing from Alton, it’s to remain optimistic about the chapters ahead.


From the Jacksonville Public Library: Registration is required for this event, which can be attended in person or online. Registration must be completed two hours prior to the start time. A library card and PIN are required for registration. If you do not have a card, click HERE to obtain one.

Gwen Yates, Chris Barton, and Alton Yates in 2017. Photo by Jennifer Ziegler.